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Dec 20, 2008 07:35 AM

Have you been to the Craigie St Bistro at it's new location?

Just wondering if any of you have dined at the Craigie Street's new location in Cambridge where LaGroceria had been located. I've never eaten at the restaurant and would like your opinion. Thanks.

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  1. I was impressed overall with my first experience there. It's nice to dine in a non-basement space with a lot more elbow room and a full bar. The bar is still finding its feet (very, very, very slow service when it's busy), but with an ex-ESK guy (Tom Schlesinger) at the helm, the cocktails are excellent. I had a beautiful Martinez done with a house-made re-creation of Carpano Antica Formula, which isn't yet distributed in MA but is maybe my favorite sweet vermouth out there.

    Food is pretty much everything it was in the old space -- a kind of luxurious take on French bistro cooking with a locavore slant, which makes for fantastic vegetable dishes. The menu is rather larger, and there's now a bar menu of small plates and a "neighbors" (or something like that) menu that is basically a budget-priced prix fixe, an excellent deal.

    One odd note: my server suggested I eat my fried smelts "like corn on the cob", i.e., chewing around the bones. "What? You don't eat smelts whole?" I replied, which is how I eat them, and did. It would be crazy to try to avoid those bones, which are easily chewable and digestible.(The smelts were wonderful.)

    Aside from that bit of weirdness, I thought the service was fine, the wine list good (though not bargain-rich). It's kind of fun to be able to see into the open kitchen. Overall a very positive first look.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      My mother used to serve us fried smelts every Friday night and we ate them whole too. Maybe some people have an aversion to bones ;) Thanks for the glowing recommendation. We haven't been to the new location but are looking forward to it. One of the best meals I've ever had in Boston was at the old location... can't wait.

    2. We never made it to the old location. I knew my dear dining companion would be uncomfortable in that space. But, we have had two wonderful meals at the bar in the new space.

      It has been added to our regular rotation.

      1. No question Tony is a brilliant chef... one of Boston area's great talents. I dined there a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed my meal. The new place is most different than the old place... as Slim suggests, the food doesn't miss a beat. Although they were only open 2 weeks it already had a comfortable feeling.. as if it had already been there a long time. Service/timing when we went was fine. Like before, some dishes are more straight forward, others show incredible creativity (particularly if you have the tasting menu.. which is what we ordered)... all executed perfectly.

        The new place... I love seeing Tony out front in the new "open" kitchen. I love the new bar area. I find the regular dining space to be just ok, but still an improvement over where he was. So all in all it's a nice upgrade. The guy is so talented it’s hard not wanting Craigie St. to be more of a "fine dining" restaurant... as you see so many flashes of that kind of brilliance in the cooking. When they dropped the "bistro" in the name when they moved I wasn't sure what to expect... perhaps they were going a bit more upscale? Now we just have to remember that this is a bistro. It's super busy, and especially now that there’s a large bar area it’s much louder... that's what fights the "fine dining" aspect. So, if you go with the idea that it's a bistro, you'll be extremely happy. The new place brought back flashes of the old days when Olives was in it’s glory… I found a similar vibe and energy level.

        I enjoyed the dining room (actually the restaurant is one big open space… the open kitchen in the middle, dining room to the left, bar to the right). All in all, I think the best place to experience Craigie St. is to eat in the bar area. You can order from the main restaurant menu... but you can also order from the excellent bar menu (not so if you’re in the main dining room). So the bar offers the best of both worlds… you can have whatever you want in a relaxed atmosphere… trust me, you won't find food like this in any other bar around.

        1. I have a friend in the neighborhood but her budget isn't really up to Craigie Street. Can you elaborate on the prices of 'neightbors' menu? Also the bar menu dishes listed on the website look interesting. Are they kind of tapas sized? TIA.

          1. I ate there a couple of weeks ago. I spend most of my time in Tokyo, so my wife and I have some absurd standards for quality. We both thought it was a standout for the Boston food scene, and quite good in an absolute sense. The smelts were fantastic, and to be eaten whole, head and all, of course.

            Service was unusual in that there is a lot of staff, and all of them are quite attuned to the diner and the food, and very enthusiastic and obviously chosen for a desire to do a good job.

            Very busy and crowded with the usual Cambridge sweater and tweed types, but don't let that scare you away.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Uncle Yabai

              Would the crowd scare someone away, or the "usual Cambridge sweater and tweed types?"

              I ask because as a semi-regular at the Craigie St. location, and twice at the new Main St. location, I have worn sweaters on many of the visits to both. And I live in Cambridge. So I suppose I feel a bit put off by that comment--as if a somewhat relaxed dress code means the food should not be the equal (or, in my opinion, better) than the vast majority found across the river. Suits, or jackets and ties, do not equal quality. In fact, perhaps not the best all around experiences, but among the best particular plates, can be found at small casual restaurants all across this country.

              I would agree with MC in that I have found the drink service is a bit slow if you are not sitting at the bar, yet still better than what I've experienced at Eastern Standard (if not sitting at the bar). The food has been equal to the old location (though still has not yet surpassed a particularly outstanding Chef's Whim I experienced several years ago), though my girlfriend (who is a vegetarian) found our recent Chef's Whim the best she's ever had.

              All in all still a jewel among Boston-area restaurants.

              1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                I always loved the somewhat casual atmosphere at the original Craigie Street, and would hate to see it become yet another place where people do the whole dressing-up-for-the-sake-of-dressing-up thing. There are, of course, restaurants where that is mandated, and makes sense, but at CSB it would just come across as fake and pretentious. That place is about the food, which is stellar, and it need not be any fancier than it has to be to have a good time. So wear your sweaters with pride.

                1. re: Sgt Snackers

                  I can't imagine Craigie on Main instituting a jackets-required or even -suggested dress code. Cambridge is Cambridge; the casualness of its restaurants relative to Boston's is part of its charm.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    I regularly eat on both sides of the river. And really find neither to be particularly dressy - I wear jeans to L'espalier. Not sure where the idea of boston and dressing up comes from

                    1. re: BostonCharles

                      Do you mean "Not sure if Boston restaurant crowds are dressier than Cambridge's" or "Not sure where the idea of dressing up for dinner came from?"

                      If it's the former, I'd say anecdotally speaking, I've long observed that Cambridge diners dress more casually, even in nicer restaurants.

                      If it's the latter, it's an idea of scaling the formality of one's dress to the occasion that has clearly become old-fashioned in the US. It feels a little Grumpy Old Man to complain about this -- our culture is what it is -- but I have some real nostalgia for a time when people wouldn't (and couldn't) wear jeans to high-end restaurants.

                      I've noticed a big dropoff in the formality of the patrons at the new L'Espalier compared to the old, which I've attributed to its inability to turn hotel guests away. As I've said before here, I'm just grateful these days when men bother to doff their baseball caps in a restaurant.

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        My own far from scientific opinion - I don't see people dressed any differently in Cambridge. Aside from a certain professorial attire being a bit more prevalent in Cambridge, I'd say the degree of difference is minor. I dress the same in both places (what I like to call urban assault bruise - black sweater, blue jeans & etc) and never feel out of place in either.

                        I respectfully disagree on the formality. If I'm paying, I like to decide how I'm dressed. If someone else pays me, they can call the shots. But dressing for dinner to my mind would involve a tuxedo, not a bad suit, which is what you are more likely to see. I'd rather see a good pair of jeans.

                        I even get a bit militant on the baseball cap thing sometimes, but think I am on thinner ice on that one.

                        As an aside, I used to wear jeans to the old l'espalier and never felt out of place...

                        1. re: BostonCharles

                          I have to agree with MC Slim JB. As a cantabridgian I have noticed a much more casual dress code on this side of the river. Sometimes its as if cambridge believes its in some remote mountain community... lots of cords and lots of fleece.

                          I think the comparison of Boston and Cambridge formality works best with more neighborhood type places as opposed to restaurants like Salts or Craigie. (Although on NYE at Craigie a fellow diner was wearing regular jeans and a hoodie...but it was quite a snowstorm out there)

                      2. re: BostonCharles

                        I'm not so sure l'Espalier appreciates that. I know dining-out attire has become much more casual the last few years, but we do like to see some jackets and ties now and again.

                  2. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                    I guess I meant it more on the self-righteousness, preciousness, judgmental nature, and thin skin of the crowd there. You know, the kind of people that feel smug about people who may make specious connections between the quality of the food and the dress code or the dress style of the patrons.

                    1. re: Uncle Yabai

                      Hi Hounds, sorry for interrupting, but we'd like to remind everyone to please focus on discussing the chow, rather than speculate/generalize on the attitudes of the crowd based on what they wear. As for more detailed discussions of dress codes in general, please continue on the Not About Food board. Many thanks for helping us keep the boards focused on chow and happy holidays!